Armenian law-enforcement authorities indicated on Friday that they might prosecute doctors in connection with the death of a man who was arrested last year after delivering food to opposition gunmen occupying a police station in Yerevan.
The 49-year-old Artur Sargsian died at a Yerevan hospital on Thursday hours after undergoing urgent bowel surgery there. He was set free on bail on March 6 following a 25-day hunger strike.
Some of Armenia’s leading opposition groups have blamed the authorities for the death of the man who came to be known as “the Food Bringer.” They say he suffered from serious chronic illnesses and should not have been kept in detention in the first place.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee said it has opened a criminal case under an article of the Criminal Code dealing with negligent homicides resulting from inadequate medical aid. It gave no indications that law-enforcement officers or judges who sanctioned Sargsian’s arrest will also be placed under investigation.
Arsen Grigorian, the chief surgeon of the Armenia Medical Center where Sargsian passed away, insisted on Friday that hospital medics did everything to save his life. He stood by their conclusion that his death was caused by lung and heart failure aggravated by a serious intestinal condition.
Grigorian said they detected bowel problems and strongly recommended an operation when Sargsian was transported from a prison hospital to the Armenia Medical Center on March 6. He said the radical opposition backer not only refused to be operated on but also left the private hospital against their advice four days later.
“Had he not refused surgery during the first hospitalization he would not have developed the [intestinal] rupture ten days later,” Grigorian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Sargsian drove his car through a police cordon to deliver food to armed members of the Founding Parliament radical opposition group during their two-week standoff with security forces, which left three police officers dead. He surrendered to them on July 31 along with the remaining gunmen holed up in a police compound.
Sargsian was released from custody in late December but was again arrested on February 9. A law-enforcement body investigating the standoff said he ignored a summons sent by then. Sargsian began a hunger strike immediately after his second arrest.
Edmon Marukian, a leader of the opposition Yelk alliance, charged that Sargsian’s death was the result of his “long and inhuman treatment” by the authorities. Another opposition bloc led by Levon Ter-Petrosian likewise condemned his arrest as a grave human rights violation.
Another opposition group led by former Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian suspended its campaign for the April 2 parliamentary elections in a show of respect for Sargsian. In a statement, it said his “self-sacrifice must not and cannot remain without consequences.”
Also cancelling its campaign meetings on Friday was an electoral alliance led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian. It described Sargsian’s death as a “great tragedy.”
The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), meanwhile, rejected the opposition criticism of the authorities and accused its political opponents of exploiting the case for political purposes. “Had we not been in a pre-election process, no such accusations would have been voiced,” a leading HHK member, Vahram Baghdasarian, told reporters.
Baghdasarian said the authorities will conduct “the most objective inquiry” to establish all causes of Sargsian’s death.